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The Big Project — micro beads and microbiology

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But just as every school trip our journey to Indiana was not only to practice the English language. We had a mission to accomplish. And it was one that would be make a bigger change in our day lives than we could have imagined when we had begun our travel to the USA. What lay ahead of us was a new challenge.

Micro plastics are a challenge for both the environment and us and it is also an issue made by the use of polyethylene without a second thought about the consequences. The micro beads we worked on were either used in scrubbing products such as face washes or were produced by degrading plastic mostly in the environment. But what are the consequences of micro beads and what are the dangers of any kind of plastic?

Day 1: Monday

Monday was the first active day of our project. It was quite early in the morning and after the weekend everyone of the 18 people in the biology room, which was stuffed with models and equipment for experiments, were more or less ready for the week and the task ahead.

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At first the group had to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of plastic in our world. Soon vivid conversation flooded the room. Later all the important arguments were collected to give the class and us an overview over what we had to deal with. The most important arguments for plastics in this conversation were the cheap and easy use especially in medical area. This is caused by the fact that plastic surfaces are easy to sterilize and keep clean but also that plastics are easy to form and have a low melting point so that plastics can be used everywhere and for a lot of tasks.

The main disadvantages were that plastic pieces in are very harmful for animals in the wild who often think that these foreign objects are a delicious meal, since plastics come in every imaginable colour and in every shape. This why many animals starve to death while their stomach is filled with plastic. Other disadvantages were that straws and co. are made from fossil fuels, especially mineral oil. But this is where another disadvantage is linked. If plastics are burned, the smoke that is produced is a black and sticky one with a dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer when inhaled. And the last major disadvantage was that in the degrading process which takes up to a 1000 years to be completed plastics fall apart into micro beads as a first step. This micro plastic can then get into the bloodstream of animals and of course also humans. So it was important to rethink are plastics management.

Day 2: Tuesday

On Tuesday we brought along the first source of micro plastics: peelings. Since micro plastic is cheaper and easier to form and even less scratchy on the skin than most natural scrubbing ingredients such as apricot seeds its used in a lot of pore freeing products.

For measuring the amount of micro plastics, the group ad to use ten gram of each product. Then the scrubs were mixed with Water in order to become a fluent mixture. After that the products were filtered with nylon fabrics and then filtered again with filter paper. The out filtered rests were put onto peri dishes to dry for the night.

To test the consequences of micro beads spreading in nature the group used Ecoli bacteria and spread them on a layer of Agar. To test the reaction on plastic, a piece of plastic, a little piece of paper soaked with water from a plastic bottle which had been in the sun for a week and a piece of paper soaked in distilled water were lain onto the bacteria.

Day 3: Wednesday

Today the results of the work of yesterday were clearly to be seen. In almost every product the group was able to find micro plastic. Even in the products that had phrases like „biological and healthy“ or „skin friendly and natural“ on them.

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After looking at the packages and tubes of the tested products we found out that micro plastic hides itself under the name of „PEG“ or „PPT“. To be absolutely sure the teenagers put the dried samples under the microscope. The difference between the scrubbing ingredients was very well to be seen there: micro plastics mostly came in an almost spheric shape and all sorts of colour. The other solid in the products was silica, a shiny and colourless substance in irregular forms.

 

On Wednesday we also looked at our bacteria again. They had grown regularly without showing any reaction on the tested substances. This caused the students to presume that the chemicals that are released by the plastic are not toxic for single cells, rather they had to be toxic for the hormonal connection between cells in a more complex organism.

This was the reason for the group to use plankton, in particular water fleas as research objects. Here Half a scoop of the micro plastic- silica mixture from the pore freeing products is put into a glass of pond water and about seven water fleas.

Day 4: Thursday

Thursday was a special day for us because the microbiology class did not meet as it did the three days before. Instead we had a special mission planned. It was a hot ad humid day and as we stepped off the white school vans at the water and sewage treatment area we could already smell the distinct smell of waste water treatments.

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A man who called himself John showed us around his special working place. We learned that this was the treatment system where all the waste water of Muncie came together. In this system the water ist first cleaned by big screens to filter out all of the larger waste, such as big plastic parts or sticks. The next step was to filter out all the grid and sediments in the water. Therefore the speed of the flow was minimized to let these particles settle.

After that they were taken out, just like it was done with the silt the step after. To clean the now mostly just biologically polluted water the wastewater was mixed with a brown cocktail of micro organisms who worked on these problems. In the end the clumps of microorganisms were filtered out by settlement again. The last step is to sterilize the Ecoli bacteria with ultra violett light. The water should be cleaned after that and is then released into the nearby river. The problem of these water treatment stations is as we later learned that there was no step to ensure that the water was free of micro beads. They might be filtered out with the grid or in another mechanical filtration step but that is not sure. It might also be that it is filtered out with the working bacteria since that is this step has the longest period of settlement and the micro plastic might be filtered out here. But then it would go with all the other organic rests to dry and would then be recycled as fertilizer on fields, where it would get into nature. Also it is possible that some particles are not filtered out at all so they would go straight into the river. So micro plastics was an even bigger problem than we would have thought.

Day 5: Friday

Today was a discussion day. We talked about the presentation in front of our partner school. It was planned to be a discussion pro and contra plastic. Also we analyzed the results of our plankton tests. It seemed that more of the Daphnia had died in the pots with micro beads. Under the microscope we could clearly see that some of the daphnia had ingested the dangerous particles and that they were stuck in the digestive system. We could also see that the plastic particles had lost their colour. In pot the scrubbing ingredients seemed too big to ingest for the water flea. All in all we could tell from this experiment that the micro beads were definitely unhealthy for the micro organisms that were tested here.

Also today was an important day for the preparation of our presentation. Mr. Engelmann del Mestre, a teacher who came with us from Germany talked about Martin Heidegger, a philosopher who thought a lot about the so called „Therebeing“ and humanity in an ever changing world of technology. But also he thought about our responsibilities in cases of science. This gave us a good point to start to think about in which directions our arguments and our pro and con teams had to go to make their point reasonable.

Day 6: Saturday

On Saturday all of the groups met again to discuss their way of arguing and their central arguments. The group that was to explain the concrete scientific work of our project to the public was able to make a so- called casein plastic by heating milk and then adding vinegar. It was a rather calm day of preparation for day x that lay directly ahead of us.

Day X: Sunday

After a good nights rest and some more talking at the beginning of the day the whole Microbiology class met in front of the auditorium, a large opera like hall with a big stage and vast seating areas at 5 pm. Three tables were set up on stage, one each for the pro and the contra side and one for our teachers who had to lead the discussion. Outside we set up four tables to expose all the results and all of the work we had done in the past week. At six o’clock the visitors arrived. Students and teachers came onto our expositional floor to see all of what we had done. The students who had to work at the display tables explained how everything worked together and showed the ever-growing crowd around them what they had learned about micro plastics.

After 20 minutes the doors were closed and the discussion began. Questions from the audience came into discussion as the debate got heated.

After all It was a fine display of what we had done and worked on for the whole of a week. And everyone who walked out of the auditorium had thought about what they could to do to minimize the micro beads they were releasing into the environment. We had completed our mission for we all have to think about our acts and we all have to work together to save this world of the ever-growing catastrophe of plastic pollution that lays ahead of us.

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Daily life at the Indiana Academy

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Motto of “Burris Laboratory School” where some of the Academy’s classrooms are located

The campus which the Indiana Academy shares with three other schools and which belongs originally to the Ball State University is huge. All students live in a big building with four floors each with three wings.

When the we first arrived, getting lost was nothing special for us. On Sunday evening, when we got back from the weekend with our hosts families, slowly the school gets filled with life again. The floors getting alive, doors open, people tell stories of the weekend and every student is getting ready for school on Monday.

 

And there the next challenge arrived. Besides remembering where the right dorm rooms are, we all also had to figure out, where the classes in our schedules are going to be. For the connecting project both schools do together, we six and the academy students, that signed up for it have to attend Mrs. Kallmeyers Microbiology class every day. Besides that, every one of us follows the schedules of their hosts.


The biggest difference between both schools is, that the students have to sign into classes at the beginning of every semester. They also have more specific classes like statistics, creative writing, utopian literature and philosophy and history of medicine, which would probably be an extra additum at Afra.

The system at the Academy is that every student has to have a specific number of credits in science, language and general classes at the end of the year and their time at the school. It happens that inside the classes seniors and juniors (i.e. year 11 and year 12 students) are mixed up and the time they attend a class is shorter. In order to ensure the right number of hours per class, everybody has the same timetable on Monday, Wednesday and Friday as well as Tuesday and Thursday. Due to that, the classes can be way more intense, because you have to deal with the topics almost every day.

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During the week all students eat in the DS (Dinning Service), which is also a popular meeting place. At a buffet you can get yourself fruit and salad as well as sweet and savoury dishes. The dinning hall is furnished in a really cozy way, which makes you feel relaxed and calm during the breaks.
We were nicely invited and also involved in the classes we attended. Despite of there being so many people on the campus and in the hallways, everybody seems friendly and kind to show you the way to your next class. Everybody was also invited to join a swing dance class at the Ball State University, the improvisation clubs try outs and a movie night.

In the evenings all students can come down to a huge lounge with snacks, a piano, a few computers and much space to sit, chat or play card games.
We can just say thank you for getting greeted so nice and involved into all the activities that took place during the time we spend here.

Birds of a feather flock together

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So, on Monday morning we all had to wanted to get up at the crack of dawn. Why, you may be asking? Well we had the rare opportunity to partake in real-life scientific field research.

Dr Kallmeyer organised a trip to Christy Woods (a short walk from our dorms) to see and learn how birds are banded, so that ornithologists can study how birds migrate during the seasons. Christy Woods is a part of Ball State University campus featuring a number of different habitats. For example, there is a huge field called the “Prairie” with maze-like footpaths between local bushy plants which are often taller than a tall person. There is also an impressive greenhouse which hosts one of the largest collections of orchids in Indiana, often illegally smuggled into the USA.

Back to the birds: the ornithologists had arrived even earlier than us to prepare the nets with which they wanted to catch the birds.

While we were waiting for the birds to fly into to traps, Alex explained to us which measurements the group had to write down, such as length, wing span, and weight.

But, they also blew softly into the plumage of the bird to figure out how much fat the bird has stored (an indication for how long the bird has been at the Prairie) and to find out about the growth of his skull (and indication of the bird’s age).

After about 10  minutes taking measurements for each bird they were released again and disappeared back into the Prairie.

 

 

 

Welcome to an Indiana Weekend

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“Welcome to Indianapolis! We hope you had a pleasant flight and wish you a good evening”, with these words the stewardess sent us off and we headed to the airport building, where Ms. Nagelkirk and some of our hosts were already waiting for us at the baggage claim with big welcome signs and little bags filled with Academy merchandise and most importantly: sweets.

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To reach the Indiana Academy in Muncie, which is another hour away, we were driven with a van. On our way, we stopped at a diner near the highway to try the popular Indiana chilly, which was really yummy.

When we finally arrived at the Academy, a lot of people came down to the entry hall to welcome us with more posters. Some of us also just met their hosts there, while others already drove home with their hosts that night. The people who spent the night on campus also met several other students of the academy and chatted with them until they almost fell asleep under the blankets.

On Saturday morning, everyone had breakfast with their host, for example at iHOP, where delicious pancakes are served.

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another exemplary American breakfast: fried toast with cream cheese and powdered sugar, bacon rashers and sausage

After that the program was very different for the four of us. While our teachers spent time riding horses at a farm, we went to a mall or the movies and watched Angry Birds 2, to an air show with planes and helicopters, on a boat tour, to an arcade, where we explored so many cool games and got prizes like a super cute penguin squishy toy, to an art fair, where we got the opportunity to explore our inner Picasso, and visited a long standing farm and Indianapolis.

We had long and inspiring talks with our host families and figured out some huge cultural differences but also similarities between the United States and Germany. A few of these were the fact that everything for example cars, bottles, stores and the national pride, which is conveyed through many American flags on sometimes even weird places, are huge in the USA, while Germany has no speed limit sometimes – sometimes we need to be ast and furious- less unnecessary plastic consumption and free WiFi or vegan food products everywhere, but a good public transport system and German correctness.

A really important part of the weekend was the food, because obviously everyone loves food; as mentioned before, there are so many and big food stores here that we were able to try so many different meals, we don’t get in Germany. Just to mention a few places, we ate something; iHop, Sushi, Applefarm, the Mexican Restaurant of host parents, Starbucks and McDonalds – which have such a different menu compared to Germany-, Panera Bread and WholeFoods.

During the time we spent with the our short-time families, we had the opportunity to also immerse into other countries’ cultures; Elina’s family is Mexican and she had a tasty but spicedy-dicedy breakfast and dinner, while she was also learning some new words in Spanish. Annegret’s host father is from Syria and they both had deep conversations about refugees and immigration.

To come to an end, all of us are grateful for the new experiences and memories we collected and are really looking forward to next week and the projects. But for now we’ll have to go to our beds, turn-off our air condition and dream of huge milk bottles, donuts and American flags, before we’ll have to get in the early bird’s morning tomorrow.

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Vacation? What vacation?!

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Hey there 🙂 Greetings from Washington; the first stop on our journey to the most wonderful, awe-inspiring and life-changing school outside of the walls of Sankt Afra: The Indiana Academy.

With this blog, you have been given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get an insight into our most honest feelings, heartfelt experiences, some amusing moments as well as bits of American history and culture. Beware of the emotional rollercoaster you are about to ride and the enrichment of your mind you are about to face. This journey will by no means be an ordinary vacation, neither will we come back the same. Lay back; let it all come to you. The 2019 exchange program with our amazing partner school is about to begin! Are you excited as much as we are?

Washington: how hotel beds can feel like heaven

Tuesday, 3rd September, 6:00 AM. Four students and two teachers are about to leave their home and travel what will become about 7500km (4660mi). Their heroic names: Antonia, Annegret, Elina, Erik, Mr Engelmann and Mrs Schnasse; supported by: the students’ friends who valued saying goodbye to their comrades more than getting as much sleep as they need, as well as Martin Kretschmer, professional English teacher and the head behind our exchange program. As hard as it was, we had to part ways; leaving behind all and everything dear to us, with our baggage as limited as we could allow ourselves to.

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Having stopped in Amsterdam on our way, it took more than 22 hours until we finally arrived in Washington. We had been heartbroken to hear that our time of arrival was to face serious delays due to various technical difficulties. Following this, it was inevitable for our bodies to adapt to this peculiar new situation. The minute our plane landed in Washington Dulles Airport, we were bound to get into our beds as fast as possible. Suffering from the jet lag, we pushed ourselves to get into the mandatory public transport vehicles leading to our hotel. While a smaller group of us couldn’t help themselves but hear their stomachs growling, the rest went to bed as soon as they could. After a long journey, we were quick to realize what laid before us: Two weeks of USA. Coming right at us.

“I met god; she is black.” Sightseeing-tour and artistic-cultural overflow

Right after overcoming our demonic sleep schedules upon waking up we were already bound to face another great challenge: The hottest day of the month, with temperatures rising up to 36°C (97°F). Hurrying from one air-conditioned building to the next, we first went to get delicious bagels for breakfast.

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American breakfast, bagel-style

Having  filled up our stomachs to the limit we then started our great sightseeing tour through Washington. We saw the treasury department and the famous Hotel Washington where all the important people visiting the US reside. We got to see the National Christmas tree as well as a far-away glimpse of the majestic White House.

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National Christmas Tree (is just as tall as the Washington Monument)

While visiting the World War II memorial, the Lincoln memorial and the Washington memorial we got a brief introduction into the corresponding parts of US-American history.

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on the steps of Lincoln Memorial

This significant understanding was then further reinforced in the museum for African American history; probably one of the best-made museums out there. With its unusual architectural design, it already sticks out from far away.

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This design comes from a bit of West-African history: The Crown by African artist Olowe of Ise (from the Yoruba people). This crown itself is meant to symbolize a certain upward-movement that ought to be all-present in the mentality of the African tribes. Also, the complex structures of the outside walls represent the skills in handicraft that finds itself rooted deep inside African culture. (Fun fact: The angle of the individual layer is the same as the top of the Washington monument.)

Upon entering the building (for free!) you are presented with seven floors of African American history. With lots of interactive elements, short films, huge amounts of information, a giant cafeteria and special places like a memorial room, the family research institute or “share your story” room.

It was hard to limit our time there to just two hours. Not only does the museum address parts of history which are essential to modern life in the US, but it is also does so in a simple and visually-pleasing way, while still remaining serious. If you ever get to go to Washington, you need to come see this place! You won’t be surprised to see you could easily spend a whole day just inside this one museum.

We went on with things of cultural importance on our walk through the sculpture garden and the National Gallery of Art. There, we encountered new vocabulary expressions (“use care”), magnificent paintings from Van Gogh, Mahler, Picasso and our all-time favorite: “untitled #2” by Mark Rothkol as well as many more.

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Capitol

After a bit of relaxation at the giant Capitol, we then went on a little shopping tour while some of us tended to complain about their “Weh-Wehchen” (booboos). At the end of day one, we all had somewhat of an understanding of what it meant to be in Washington: A town with a deep-rooted history, lots of awesome places, full of memories, differently-colored fire hydrants, a lot of people and a bit of a lack in what we may call “Herzenswärme” (literally: warmth of heart).

Between shopping malls and cemeteries

For the second day of our stay in Washington we decided to buy a day pass for the metro. We visited George Town; one of the historic neighborhoods of Washington where you can find the continent’s oldest cathedral (entirely funded by donations, it is also the world’s 6th largest one) as well as the city’s oldest house. The so-called “old stone house” was built in 1756 and nowadays merely consists of a small museum with a shop. Aside from the canal flowing through the city and the immense key bridge spanning over the Potomac river, we also got to see Jackie Kennedy’s home, where she lived after her husband‘s assassination.

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Georgetown Canal

After exploring a small fraction of the town’s shopping potential, we then moved on to the famous Arlington memorial cemetery which with its about 400.000 graves on 253ha is the second largest national cemetery in the USA.

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view from Arlington Cemetery

You can not only find the graves of US soldiers from the many wars America played a role in, but also Kennedy’s grave and some of his family member’s. We walked around a bit in search of James Tanner’s grave while reflecting the tragedies the people had to face. However, in regards to the city-like size of the cemetery we eventually decided to make our way back. Another highlight of this visit was met when we stood atop the hill and got a view to lay our eyes on the gigantic Pentagon for a bit.

Having visited the giant mall of Tysons Corner Center in the evening we then made our way back to the hotel for a final time. Tomorrow we will head to Indiana where our hosts will take us on a magical journey over the weekend 🙂

Stay tuned, as there is lots more to come. The real adventure still lies ahead of us. And until then, have a great day and cheerio!

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Thursday, September 27

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Thursday, September 27

Today was our last day that we wholly spent at the Academy.

 

It started with Latin as usual but this time we practiced our presentation which was set for 1pm. This rehearsal went quite well so we felt comfortable about the upcoming presentation.

 

There is no German class on Thursdays so Lina and I took the chance to go to the Ball State bookstore.

It is situated in the Art and Journalism Building of the Ball State University. We had already bought matching sweaters in D.C. so we were looking for another one. The store rents out school books and sells everything from school supplies through hoodies and sweaters up to key chains with “Ball State” on them.

Most of the clothes were only available in large sizes but luckily we found a sweater that we liked. I think this is a great souvenir because it has a meaning to us since we’ve attended classes at the Academy and Ball State.

At lunch al of us met with our teachers again and afterwards we went to the Auditorium where the presentation was supposed to take place.

 

We waited for a while and quite a lot of students showed up but we couldn’t use the Auditorium because there was an organization error. So then we went to one of the classrooms which got very crowded. First the 8 am Latin group presented the results of their analyses of the fable “Lupus et Agnus” (“The wolf and the lamb”) and then it was the 10 am class’s turn which I was a part of. In my group we had looked at the French version of the fable “Vulpes et corvus” (“The fox and the crow”). We analyzed the grammar, content, style, and language of an excerpt of the text. We had found out that a few English words were derivatives of French and Latin words and that French sounds lovely because of it’s pronunciation (words flow into each other; many soft sounds).

The other groups did a great job, some had concentrated their analysis on grammar and style, others had prepared a skit to illustrate the language’s beauty.

 

Afterwards I attended Anatomy with my hosts. This was one of the best classes I have taken at the Academy! It was a skin lab so we took our own fingerprints and counted the ridges which are added up in the TRC (TotalRidgeCount). In the next lesson the data is going to be analyzed and interpreted. Also we practiced ‘surgeries’ on a chicken leg. We made a little incision and then stitched up the “wound”. That was awesome, it was probably the only time that I would get to do that!

 

After Anatomy we met up with Rachael. We took a picture at the sign on campus that says “Indiana Academy” because we needed proof that we were actually there 😉

After that we walked around campus and enjoyed chatting and spending time with our friend.

At 5 pm we went to dinner together with our hosts at Scotty’s. It is an all American restaurant so we got burgers, sandwiches and chicken wings. Our hosts had told us before that the chicken was amazing and I definitely agree! It was great to spend our last dinner together with our new friends enjoying delicious food.

 

We headed back to Wagoner Hall because there was supposed a farewell campfire at 7 pm. Although the fire didn’t really burn since the logs were pretty wet, we had a great time talking, having s’mores and taking snapshots. It made me realize yet again that our two weeks in the USA were almost over and that made me think of all the awesome memories we’ve made and the great of a time we had. Our stay in Washington D.C. was full of fun, new experiences and walking; at the Academy I loved attending classes and hanging out with the students and the weekend that I had spent with Mary, Mel and Ahna will always be a special memory that I’ll cherish.

 

When Andrew, one of the SLCs, had to put the fire out, Amy Lina and I went to our room to pack our suitcases. I was very afraid that my stuff wouldn’t fit in my bags but luckily I managed to put everything in.

When I was done packing I took this last chance to hag out with Mel and Mary at their room. We talked and laughed quite a lot and I brought them some more chocolate and cookies which they appreciated very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After this incredible last day Amy, Lina and I went to bed; we had arranged to meet with Mary and Maggie for breakfast so we would be able to see each other once more and say goodbye.

 

Ulrike

 

„At that point the chicken says ouch. And wants to go to the chicken doctor. That’s you.“

Mr Mayfield the Anatomy teacher before explaining how to stitch up the chicken leg

Wednesday, September 26

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Who would wake up at 6 am if they had the choice of sleeping two hours longer? I don’t know… who would? Well, on Wednesday, the 26th of September, that is exactly what I did. The Ball gym is at a three minute walking distance from the Academy and the swimming pool is opened for the public from 6 to 8am. Two other guys from my floor go there frequently for their daily workout, so I decided to join them for this one day. Before going swimming we had a quick ab workout and then went down the stairs to get to the swimming pool. Some rather old people were also swimming with us and, for some reason, three lifeguards watched over all of us (in total ten people swimming). After about thirty minutes we got back out because they both had class at eight. I was already asking myself how I should dry my swimming trunks until Elliot, one of the two guys that went with me, told me there was a dryer extra for swimming trunks and bathing suits. And to my surprise, my swimming trunks really were dry afterwards. We quickly got dressed and then jogged back to the dorms. In front of the dorms they did their battlecry, after which we finally went back inside. I felt so awake that I listened to an audiobook for the next hour and then went to breakfast. My first class for that day was Latin. We continued to work on our project: “The beauty of language”, which I started to really like, especially after we found a great way to present. The next class was German. Amy, Ulrike, Lina and I talked about our school – in German – and got into conversation with the other students. We had already been attending this class earlier within these two weeks and were really having fun! After lunch, I went to the English class with Dr. Smith. They were currently working on a project in which they correct essays from a College in Singapore and vice versa. I thought that was really awesome and tried it myself. A big boost to my confidence was the finding of some grammar and spelling mistakes. I then went to get some comics in a nearby bookstore and later met up with the other German exchange students because we wanted to go to Target. The trip to Target took us one and a half hours but I would say that it was worth it. Everybody was able to get some more things that they hadn’t been able to get yet and we also bought some cookies. But not just any cookies, we bought Smore Chocolate Chip cookies! They were simply delicious. After heading back, we were all in the mood to play some cards. We decided upon playing “Oh hell”. A game that we had learned to love when the Academites came to our school in March. We had a lot of fun and I myself concluded the evening by playing X Box with Sasser – an awesome dude that I hosted in March.

David